Hollywood’s naked public square

In 1997 I wrote a story for Christian Research Journal about Scientology’s expansion into Europe, where it was meeting resistance from various government officials — especially in Germany, where leaders have this well-founded thing about mass movements.

The low point of my effort to research the story occurred when the Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, informed me that I was part of “Pat Robertson’s and Jerry Falwell’s cabal.” I found this amusing, considering that my sole interaction with both men was to ask them questions, as a reporter, roughly ten years earlier.

Nevertheless, I felt sympathy this week for Scientologist Tom Cruise as The New York Times reported on whispers among Hollywood executives that his recent behavior has been strange. Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman cites these examples of unusual behavior:

While promoting [War of the Worlds] over the last several weeks, Mr. Cruise engaged in an increasingly public discussion of his religion, Scientology. Then he set tongues wagging in Hollywood and elsewhere with an hourlong appearance on the May 23 “Oprah” show, during which he jumped around the set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee and repeatedly professed his love for his new girlfriend, the actress Katie Holmes.

Many Hollywood stars are involved with the Church of Scientology, and there is nothing particularly unusual about trumpeting a new love. But some executives at Paramount and DreamWorks have voiced concern that fans were becoming distracted from the movie, which cost some $130 million to produce.

. . . Mr. Cruise’s spokeswoman, his sister Lee Anne De Vette, said she had not heard anything negative after the “Oprah” appearance. “You’re looking at someone who’s genuinely very happy,” she said. “The response we’ve gotten back is complete enthusiasm and exhilaration for his enthusiasm and exhilaration. He’s a very happy person.”

Still, there have been other publicity hiccups related to Mr. Cruise’s increasingly public association with Scientology, the religion founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. In a series of television interviews on “Access Hollywood” last week, the star spoke at length about his passion for Scientology, at one point criticizing Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants: Scientology considers modern psychiatry and its medications to be harmful.

. . . And Mr. Cruise’s insistence on having a Scientology tent on the set of “War of the Worlds” created a conflict at Universal, where the movie was being shot, two executives involved said. The executives, who asked not to be identified to protect industry relationships, said that Mr. Cruise, his agent Kevin Huvane and [director Steven] Spielberg all had to appeal personally to the president of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, for the tent to be permitted on the studio lot, where no solicitation is allowed.

The studio required that the tent not be used for recruitment purposes, they said. A studio spokesman declined to comment.

“Many Hollywood stars are involved with the Church of Scientology, and there is nothing particularly unusual about trumpeting a new love,” Waxman adds. “But some executives at Paramount and DreamWorks have voiced concern that fans were becoming distracted from the movie, which cost some $130 million to produce.”

Waxman’s article is reminiscent of her earlier reportage on Mel Gibson before The Passion of the Christ became a box-office phenomenon. Together, these reports leave the impression of a common attitude among entertainment executives: Believe whatever you like, but please show the decency not to persuade anyone else to believe it.

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  • http://isuma.org/ jeff

    I saw the Tom Cruise interview by Oprah (tivo). He acted like a loon. It seemed contrived, but I don’t know the guy personally. Imagine Jerry McGuire, but even more ‘excited’.

    My wife and I later learned about his scientology conversion. I’m actually relieved that it’s only scientology and not a drug habit, which was my first thought.

  • Stephen A.

    Putting aside the “colorful” nature of this particular “religion,” while most actors are divas (is the male a “divo”?) demanding a tent to propagate your religion on a film set would appear to be a bit extravagant, even for an actor.

    But the fact that this is a self-proclaimed religion doesn’t mean that this story is yet another example of Hollywood hatred of religion.

    Many top actors are members of this New Agey, anti-psychology self-help group that seemingly has no god except its human founder, so it would seem to fit Hollywood standards for a “religion.”

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    No, that would be insulting to “Devo”.

    Whip it, good!

  • Stephen A.

    Yes, I was thinking of Devo, too! ;-)

    Not sure what religion THEY were but they wore funny ceremonial hats and did a robot-like dance during communion.

  • http://u2sermons.blogspot.com Beth

    The thing that gets me: What’s the worst that could happen? Someone might be “distracted from the movie.”

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